Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 gets a (too scary for Twi-hards?) teaser.

While most of this 68-second teaser is just a reminder of how much you theoretically liked the first film, the last thirty seconds deliver a handful of goose-bumpy shots. Yes, putting a baby in supernatural peril may be cheap, but it is an iconic image that is effective none-the-less. According to Bloody Disgusting, this teaser is apparently too effective. Theaters have allegedly had to pull the teaser from prints of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse after parents complained. The film opens on October 22nd, meaning it will open head-to-head with Saw VII 3D (which amazingly is already finished, as it just received an R for 'sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language'). I enjoyed the first Paranormal Activity for what it was, and it works even better while watching it in your own home. But after the dynamite sixth installment of the Saw series, I'm firmly on the side of Team Kramer. Hopefully there will be enough blood for both horror franchises.

Scott Mendelson

Twilight Saga: Eclipse smashes midnight record with $30 million.

Wow. Summit took advantage of the lack of school and just crushed their own record. With just midnight showings, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse has taken in $30 million (New Moon opened with $26 million in midnight showings). Obviously the die-hard fans will show up no matter when the film opens, so it'll be interesting to see how close Eclipse gets to, or how far it surpasses, the $72 million scored by New Moon last November on its first full day. It will be a nail-biter, as many casual fans were turned off by New Moon, yet this film has comparably better reviews and a somewhat misleading trailer promising lots of vampire vs. werewolf action (the film has about as much action as a season finale of Heroes). The single-day record for a Wednesday is $62 million for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (which did 'just' $16 million in midnight screenings). The six-day record is $222 million for The Dark Knight. Both records are now in serious jeopardy. We'll know more soon enough...

Scott Mendelson

Gore Verbinski's Rango gets a teaser.

This looks kinda terrific, and the animation looks genuinely stunning, almost lifelike in its detail at certain moments. It's good to see Verbinski back in the saddle, as he is a genuine talent whose work on the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy remains oddly underrated, to say nothing of his fine work on The Weather Man and The Ring. The entire series hold up a few years down the line as overly-convoluted but generally intelligent and surprisingly political blockbusters (the sequels work as relatively potent 'War on Terror' analogies better than the more on-the-nose Prince of Persia). This looks like something more akin to the hilarious Looney Tunes-ish romp Mouse Hunt, which first put him on the map back in December 1997. This is also Paramount's first stand-alone animated feature since Barnyard: The Original Party Animals back in 2006. It comes out March 4th, 2011.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: The Last Airbender 3D (2010)

The Last Airbender
102 minutes
Rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender contains a few moments of grace and visual wonder, moments that dare to show me something I've never seen onscreen before. It's a shame that said beats are contained within a stunningly inept story. Apparently based on the first season of the acclaimed Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: the Last Airbender, the film is a structural disaster, choppily bouncing from one brief expositional scene to another. The picture has no rhythm and no pacing, feeling both heavily edited and curiously padded. As the introductory chapter to a three-part story, it fails to inspire any reason to care about what comes next, as not a single character emerges from the haphazard narrative. As a film from the man who once wrote and directed such films as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, it is a heartbreaking tragedy, a 'sign' that perhaps the once-great M. Night Shyamalan is truly 'broken'.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: An IMAX Experience (2010)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
124 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

I'm probably one of six people on the planet who preferred Spider-Man 3 to Spider-Man 2. The second Spider-Man picture is arguably the better film. It's better written, better acted, and contains moments of real pathos and drama (Aunt May's birthday present to Peter, Peter confessing his role in Uncle Ben's death, the train action-scene, Peter's conversations with Doctor Octavius). Yet it is derailed by the fact that Peter Parker spends the entire movie in a swirl of self-pity, endlessly moping for the girl he loves, while forgetting the fact that he dumped her first at the conclusion of the first film (nevermind that most of his other problems have pretty obvious solutions - move in with Aunt May and take your Spider-Man photos to other newspapers for money, etc). The third film, by virtue of having three hundred subplots, focuses less on the annoying Peter Parker/Mary Jane romantic plot, and is less forehead-slappingly obnoxious despite the kitchen-sink plotting. So while the Twilight Saga: Eclipse is not as focused and disciplined as Twilight Saga: New Moon, I did enjoy it a bit more due to the plentiful distractions from the Bella/Edward/Jacob arc. It's not nearly as fun and light-on-its feet as the first Twilight picture, but it's a case of improvement-by-default.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows gets a dynamite trailer.

Wow... just wow. After a somewhat low-key teaser clip that was shown on the MTV Movie Awards just a few weeks ago, Warner Bros. has unleashed this genuinely epic trailer. This is a thunderously impressive preview, full of the kind of emotional pathos and visual oomph that the Twilight crowd could only dream of. You can practically hear Harry, Hermione, and Ron telling Bella, Edward, and Jacob to get the hell off of their lawn. As far as tentpole teasers go, this is Dark Knight/Star Trek good. Warner Bros is selling the astonishing legacy of this series first and foremost, as well they should be. Eight rock-solid epic films, nearly ten years in the making, with nearly every major cast member (save the late Richard Harris) intact. It's hard to believe it'll be nine years since The Sorcerer's Stone premiered by the time part I of The Deathly Hallows opens this November. By keeping the films rooted in character and emotionally-charged, Campellian-storytelling, these films will live on long after their special effects have become dated. This series is a truly unprecedented achievement in cinema history and deserves to be celebrated as such.

Scott Mendelson

New feature: Not Necessarily the News.

Another new occasional feature, one dealing with random speculation that inexplicably gets turned into real news due to various bloggers who are desperate for hits and/or scoops. All of the items below are either complete speculation or painfully obvious developments that are being branded about as BREAKING NEWS for the sake of page views.

Spike Lee returns to genre filmmaking with Nagasaki Deadline.

I don't generally comment on stories from Deadline Hollywood, but this one seems legit (and notably non-sensational) enough to merit commentary. According to Mike Fleming, Spike Lee is wrapping a deal to shoot the modern-day terrorism thriller Nagasaki Deadline. Basically the gist is that it involves a damaged FBI agent who must prevent two (simultaneous?) attacks on US soil while uncovering the apparent historical motives behind the attacks. The project had been bounced around for around a decade, and had even been looked at by Martin Campbell as one of the flurry of post-Casino Royale thrillers that he was offered (he eventually decided to remake Edge of Darkness and helm Green Lantern). But now the project will mark Spike Lee's first film since Miracle at St. Anna in October 2008.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3 retakes crown, as Grown Ups and Knight and Day make solid showings. Weekend box office in review (06/27/10).

Ten-and-a-half years ago, Toy Story 2 opened with $57.3 million over the Fri-Sun portion of Thanksgiving weekend, which was the third-biggest Friday-to-Sunday take on record (behind Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace at $64 million and The Lost World: Jurassic Park at $72 million). Today, the third Toy Story picture has taken in $59.3 million on its second weekend. That's the seventh-biggest second-weekend take in history, and the very largest non-opening weekend for a 'part 3' ever. And, at a second-weekend drop of 46.2%, it's the fourth-smallest drop for a film opening to over $100 million. The film crossed $200 million on Saturday (nine days), which is the eighth-fastest on record and the fourth-fastest such dash that did not involve a holiday weekend boost. With $226.8 million so far, the film has the seventh-largest ten day total ever, and the the third-biggest such total for a film not aided in any way by a holiday weekend in those first ten days (behind Spider-Man 3 at $240 million and The Dark Knight at $313 million). With sustained weekday numbers and a hold such as this, the film could theoretically cross $300 million by the end of the long Fourth-of-July weekend. It won't be the number one film in America for long, as Twilight Saga: Eclipse is opening this Wednesday, but the Pixar masterpiece is almost certain to become the year's highest-grossing film in America in just a few weeks. Audiences have no problem with sequels and what-not, as long as they are this good.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Friday box office - Toy Story 3 crushes newbies, Grown Ups opens per normal Sandler standards, and Knight and Day regains momentum.

At $18 million, Toy Story 3 has the 29th-biggest non-opening Friday of all-time. However, if you discount day eight or day ten grosses (IE - for a film that opened on Wednesday) that were not part of a holiday weekend, Toy Story 3 once again shoots up to number four, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($18.5 million), Spider-Man ($19.9 million) and The Dark Knight ($23.2 million). It's eight-day gross is now at $185 million, which is eighth on the list, just ahead of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($184.9 million). In realms of eight day grosses where the first or second weekend did not fall in a holiday, the film moves up to third place, behind Spider-Man 3 ($199.2 million), and The Dark Knight ($261.8 million). At a 57% drop from Friday to Friday, the film should bounce way back with weekend matinee business today and tomorrow. Expect a second-weekend total of $60-65 million, and a ten day total of about $230 million (the sixth or seventh-best, depending on the final numbers).

Friday, June 25, 2010

With astounding midweek numbers, Toy Story 3 scores $167 million in seven days.

I was seemingly alone in my slight disappointment with the low 2.68x weekend multiplier for Toy Story 3, which opened to $110 million off of a $41 million opening day. Apparently I was an idiot to worry, as the film has recovered whatever steam it allegedly lost over its first three weekdays. The picture grossed $15.6 million on its first Monday, a mere 51% drop from Sunday and the fifth-biggest non-holiday Monday of all-time, behind such lightweights as Avatar (it's first two Mondays: $16 million and $19 million respectively), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($18 million) and The Dark Knight ($24 million).. On Tuesday, it kept up the pace, grossing another $15.1 million. That puts it again at number five for non-Holiday/non-opening day Tuesday grosses. Again, it's behind just Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($15.7 million), the fifth and twelve days of Avatar ($16 million and $18.2 million respectively), and The Dark Knight ($20.8 million).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You can all breathe easier now, The Expendables has been rated R.

There has been much discussion on whether or not Lionsgate was able and willing to send out the $50 million action-fest into wide release with an age-limiting R-rating. The several test screenings (with their mixed word-of-mouth) and the overtly green-band trailers led many to wonder if the 1980s action homage would end up being edited to a PG-13. But fear no more. The Expendables has been officially been rated R, for "strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language". Now if Lionsgate could just cut a trailer that would convince us that the film isn't going to be 80% set-up with only the final reel containing actual action/adventure. I'm getting the feeling that this one's going to play more like Commando than Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Scott Mendelson

Knight and Day opens with just $3.8 million on Wednesday. The bane of the stupid Wednesday/Thursday opening.

I've said this several times over the last few years, but it bears repeating: It’s suicide to open on Wednesday unless you’re dealing with a severely hardcore ‘must see it NOW’ fanbase. Knight and Day is not The Lord of the Rings. It is not Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It is not Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and it is certainly not Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Yes, Fox may have been deluded into thinking that Tom Cruise's star-power alone is what powered War of the Worlds and the first two Mission: Impossible pictures to their massive five or six day weekends. But those three were holiday weekends, not the week before a major holiday. And Knight and Day is not a heavily-anticipated Steven Spielberg adaptation of a classic sci-fi novel. Nor is it a mega-budget adaptation of a beloved TV show that benefited from a killer marketing campaign. It's just an action-comedy that stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. I know plenty of people who want to see Knight and Day. But every one of them is able and willing to wait until the actual weekend to do so.

Red gets an all-star cast, and an amusing trailer.

Well, this looks absolutely delightful. It's apparently based on a Warren Ellis comic book from DC, and I can't imagine that too many fans would be displeased on first glance. Who wouldn't want an adaptation of their favorite action comic to star Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, and Richard Dreyfuss? Not enough? Well, it also features Karl Urban, Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, and Brian Cox. So yes, this is the second movie entitled Red that Brian Cox has made in the last two years (the earlier one was a dark drama involving an old man whose dog is murdered by teenage ruffians). Regardless, any movie with that cast is automatically worth the price of admission, and thus Red becomes one of the must-see movies of the fall.

Scott Mendelson

Predators gets a terrific international trailer, and I suddenly have an interest in the film.

Nimrod Antal's Predators was not very high on my radar this summer. I have nothing against the man, his two prior pictures (Vacancy and Armored) were lean and mean B-movies that did much with small budgets. And producer Robert Rodriguez also knows how to do much with little, and his filmography has far more hits (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids, Spy Kids 2, Shorts) than visually-inventive misses (Sin City, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over). But I don't think the world really needs another Predator film. I still don't, but this brutal and efficient trailer has convinced me that whatever Antal and Rodriguez have cooked up might be worth watching anyway. The cast (Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Alice Brega) looks sharp, the locales look gorgeous and foreboding, and the action is gory as hell. Any worries about this one being PG-13 have been officially been put to rest. This looks like a gloriously top-notch B-movie, which should be just the thing between the mega movies of July 4th weekend (Twilight Saga: Eclipse and The Last Airbender) and Chris Nolan's Inception.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Knight and Day (2010)

Knight and Day
110 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

I can only wonder what kind of film James Mangold's Knight and Day would have been had it just been another action vehicle for a Tom Cruise (pre-2005) who was not in the midst of a PR-mandated comeback. Despite the fact that Cruise's pictures have done just fine since his 2005 couch-jumping, Scientology-hyping PR-meltdown, there is a perception that Cruise has lost his luster as a genuine movie star. So along comes Knight and Day, a variation on the 'wronged-man on the run with quasi-kidnapped female' story, which theoretically casts Tom Cruise as a borderline-satirical version on the Cruise persona (insanely-driven action hero with a touch with the ladies). As a satire on the stereotypical Tom Cruise action picture, it has its moments and its charm. But the film lacks the courage of its convictions, as well as the ability to take the story into territory that a more fearless Cruise of the 1990s would crash headlong into without thinking twice.

Audiences want family films? No, they want good films. Why family films have a higher batting average for quality.

Here's a novel idea: Toy Story 3 is making bank because it's the best big-studio movie of the year and audiences have already noticed. Steven Zeitchik of the LA Times is wrong. Audiences are not flocking to family films because of some rebellion against adult pictures. Audiences are flocking to family pictures because the kids-flicks are better than the adult movies at the moment. Audiences want good films, period. Sure, critics and audiences may disagree on what is 'good', and lousy all-ages pictures like Alice in Wonderland or teen-centric movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen may be massive hits despite their lack of quality. But at the end of the day, if studios make a good movie and can open the picture through marketing, audiences will usually respond. The Hangover didn't gross six times its opening weekend because it tapped into some kind of zeitgeist. It grossed $277 million off a $44 million opening weekend because it was good. How to Train Your Dragon didn't slowly pull in $215 million from a $43 million opening weekend because audiences suddenly remembered that they had kids. It stuck around because it was a terrific movie, and those that initially saw it fought like hell to make sure their friends and family saw it too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet gets a trailer.

Despite my distaste for Michel Gondry's Be Kind, Rewind (a heartwarming final twenty-minutes did not redeem the nearly unwatchable first 75 minutes), this actually looks like low-key pulpy fun. Cameron Diaz seems wasted as 'the girl', but hopefully there's more to her part than just the random hot secretary. I can only hope that the next trailer gives more exposure to her and arch-villain Christoph Weitz. It's a shame Tom Wilkinson isn't in the picture past the initial reel or two, but his gravitas is appreciated. I have little knowledge of the original stories, so I don't know if the 'my dead father's company left me all the tools to fight crime' bit is from the original origin or cribbed from Batman Begins. Most intriguing is the warm and relaxed chemistry between leads Seth Rogan and Jay Chou. It seems that this new version of The Green Hornet is making a genuine attempt to have Kato be a full-fledged partner rather than a token Asian sidekick. All in all, for something that allegedly has had a pretty troubled production, this is a very confident piece of marketing. So far, so good.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3 opens with massive $109 million, Jonah Hex makes just $5 million. Weekend box office review (06/20/10).

Toy Story 3 ended its first weekend with $109 million, setting a record for Pixar and the month of June. It is the second-biggest opening weekend for an animated film (behind Shrek the Third's $122 million), the fourth-biggest 'part 3' opening weekend, the biggest opening weekend ever in June, and the 10th-biggest opening of all-time. It is far and away the biggest opening weekend in Pixar history (Finding Nemo and The Incredibles both opened with $70 million). Truth be told, I'm a little disappointed in the number, when you factor in the $41 million opening day. When you factor in the usually high multipliers for kids flicks, along with the across-the-board raves from critics and audiences, I honestly expected (or at least was rooting for) a top-five opening weekend. As it is, it is just the third-biggest opening of 2010, behind Iron Man 2 ($128 million) and Alice in Wonderland ($116 million). Family pictures generally have higher weekend multipliers than the norm. But Toy Story 3 had just a 2.68x multiplier, it actually decreased 9% on Saturday to $37 million.

Box Office analysis to come later today...

Everyone slept in late, and it's already time to leave for Disney Land, so box office analysis will come later. For the record, Toy Story 3 managed only a 2.6x multiplier, ending the weekend with $109 million. We'll see tomorrow if the finals put it high enough for the biggest June Fri-Sun weekend (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen did $109 million as well), and the second-biggest animated opening weekend (Shrek 2 did $108 million over the Fri-Sun portion of its opening weekend). Jonah Hex did just $5 million and The Karate Kid held strong with $29 million in weekend two. More context and analysis to come later.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3 opens with $41 million Friday, Jonah Hex collapses.

Toy Story 3 has scored $41 million on its first day, barely beating out Alice in Wonderland's $40.8 million Friday for the biggest opening day of the year. It has surpassed the $38.4 million opening Friday of Shrek the Third to score the biggest opening Friday in animated-film history (although Shrek 3 had more tickets sold, factoring in three years of inflation and higher IMAX/3D prices for Toy Story 3). With $41 million, the Pixar sequel has the 22nd-biggest single day, the 12th-biggest opening day, and the seventh-biggest Friday gross of all time. It is the second-biggest opening day in June history, behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($62 million). With just part 3s, the film had the fourth-biggest opening day day, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($42 million), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith ($50 million), and Spider-Man 3 ($59 million).

That takes me back: Donkey Kong Country comes to Wii.

I don't generally buy video games these days. Sure, Red Dead Redemption might be wonderful, but I do not have the hours and hours of disposable time to invest in such a sprawling world. But this one looks like something the spouse can play right along with me, as we both got a big kick out of Super Mario Bros Wii. The original Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994, and it was the last great game on the good ol' Super Nintendo (it sold 8 million copies, which was more than any stand-alone title in Super Nintendo history). But I was less crazy about the 3D Nintendo 64 version that came out Christmas 1999. This looks like a step back in the right direction, although I have no idea what the series has been up to in the last eleven years, but it looks like I might actually have something for my wife to buy me this holiday season (oh, how she does complain that I'm hard to shop for...).

Scott Mendelson

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3: An IMAX 3D Experience (2010)

Toy Story 3: An IMAX 3D Experience
105 minutes
rated G

by Scott Mendelson

Toy Story 3 is easily the best film of 2010. Toy Story 3 is possibly the finest 'part 3' ever made, give or take a The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. It is thrilling, funny, and scary, alternating between bouts of inspiration and heartbreak. Whether it is or isn't the best Pixar picture yet is a moot point. It fits in their canon as another glorious mediation on their core themes (existing in safety vs. living with risk, letting go of that which is lost and cannot be recovered, the inevitability of time, the nature of 'home'). If the first two pictures took Woody and Buzz to 'infinity and beyond', this one takes them to hell and back. It absolutely must be seen in 3D if possible, if only because the glasses will be useful in hiding the stream of tears during the first and last reels.

Scott Mendelson talks the modern blockbuster age on CultureShock Radio

Another round on Irish talk radio. My longest and most successful chit-chat yet. I'm pretty quiet in the first half when the topic starts with the 1970s (Jaws, The Godfather), but once we get to 'AB' time ('After Batman'), I pretty much take over. The embed is being dumb, so just click on the picture for a link straight to the conversation. Enjoy.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Conviction (Hillary Swank's newest Oscar-bait vehicle) gets a trailer.

Hillary Swank is a rare thing, a successful, critically-acclaimed actress who has made a full career primarily on lead roles and/or star vehicles in genre pictures and genuine dramas. To my recollection, ever since Boys Don't Cry in 1999, she's never had to play the unattractive best friend, she's never had to play the token girlfriend/love interest, and she's never had to play the whimpering hostage. The closest she's come to any of those was her work in Chris Nolan's Insomnia, which isn't exactly a bad career low. Sure, some of her films (The Reaping) weren't very good, but in an industry where even the most acclaimed and respected actresses are cast according to how well they pair up with the male lead (even in romantic comedies), Swank truly is a special anomaly. In a way, she's this generation's Jodie Foster.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Jonah Hex (2010)

Jonah Hex
81 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

I have no idea what occurred behind the scenes of Jonah Hex, beyond the broad strokes that have been reported. But I do know that the final product is barely a shell of a film, a barely functioning picture that makes it to feature length only through repeated scenes and random thematic detours. At just 73 minutes long without end credits, it is the shortest live-action film I have ever seen in a theater. Heck, many of Warner Bros' direct-to-DVD DC Comics animated features are longer. Like past films that were heavily-tinkered to no avail in post-production, there is just enough of a kernel of substance and thought to make one mourn the final cut. The failure of Jonah Hex is not a cause for gloating or mockery. It is a tragedy.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader gets a trailer.

Having not read any Narnia books past the first one, I have absolutely no idea what this third chapter is about. And frankly, having watched this trailer twice, I still have no idea what it's about. All we know is that the young heroes of the first two chapters return to Narnia for reasons unknown and end up on Prince Caspian's ship, with cameo appearances by the White Witch, Prince Caspian, and Aslan. Fair enough, and it is a little promising that this third picture may involve something different from the usual 'Narnia is being oppressed, lets raise an army and kill the other side' plot. It's a shame that director Andrew Adamson chose not to return. Prince Caspian was a notable improvement from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and it almost seemed like Adamson was knowingly fixing problems with the original film when constructing the sequel. Still, Michael Apted is a fine choice (I rather enjoyed The World is Not Enough), and the paycheck should cover the financing of 56 Up, which should be arriving in 2012. As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Rachel Maddow - What Obama should have said...

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This is obviously hardcore wish-fulfillment, but how sad is it that these perfectly reasonable responses are in the realm of near-fantasy. President Obama, this is more important than reelection. My primary-vote for Hillary Clinton is looking smarter and smarter every day. Come what may, Clinton wouldn't have cared about appearing bipartisan, she wouldn't have cared about being liked or respected by her political opponents. It must be said, this president lacks even the political courage of George W. Bush. However much we disagree with much of what he rammed through, he did get what he wanted when he wanted it, especially during his first term. Your opponents are going to savage you no matter what you do Mr. Obama, you might as well play to win. Barack Obama was never my favorite of the Democratic nominees, but I tried to remain optimistic that there perhaps was a progressive hidden inside the cautious pragmatist (especially after his spot-on speech in Philadelphia in Spring 2008). But, at this moment, at this point, I'd gladly have a primary challenger to vote for in the 2012 election, be it Dick Durbin or (one can dream) Russ Feingold.

Scott Mendelson

The Smurfs 3D gets a teaser. Looks smurfing awful.

Well, this looks like the hell-spawn of the Alvin and the Chipmunks series. Oddly enough, the human cast was interesting enough (Jayma Mays, Sofia Vergara, Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azira) and the Smurf voices somewhat out-of-left-field (Paul Ruebens, Wolfgang Puck, Katy Perry, Jonathan Winters, etc) that I almost convinced myself that this might be more than a cash grab. And it very well might be, but this teaser doesn't help the situation. I'm amused by the official plot synopsis, which will be set in Smurf village only in the opening scenes, before magically sending our blue heroes to New York City for the remainder of the picture. Yes, because that went over so well for Masters of the Universe back in 1987. I imagine that He-Man's earthbound adventure was a budgetary choice back then (Gary Goddard's commentary track is a heart breaker, in terms of discussing what didn't happen due to money troubles), but I don't know what Sony's excuse is. Although, to be fair, Fox's Alvin and the Chipmunks movies are dirt-cheap outside of the CGI animals (Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel was actually positioned for Christmas 09 as a fail-safe in case Avatar flopped). Oh well, Good Journey, smurfs.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flashback - on the eve of Toy Story 3, a look back at classic part 3s in film history.

Since I had to miss the press screening of Toy Story 3 due to minor family illness (and my Jonah Hex review is under embargo until Friday), I thought I'd share this essay I wrote two years ago, written in the aftermath of The Dark Knight, dealing with whether or not Nolan and company could or should try to pull off a third Batman picture. Point being, despite conventional wisdom, and a recent string of bad luck in 2007 (Spider-Man 3, Shrek The Third, and Rush Hour 3), there is a small but potent legacy of third films that are actually quite good, in some cases even becoming the best of the series. A quick roundup of great part 3s. I can only assume that Toy Story 3 will join this list in a few days. Warning - thar be heavy spoilers below!

Monday, June 14, 2010

We are not in a slump, our best players are just still in the batting box. Explaining the slow start to summer 2010.

Listen people, we are not in a summer box office slump. No matter what The New York Times is trying to sell you, audiences have not deserted the multiplexes in favor of other entertainment options (yep, Brooks Barnes is at it again). Why has this summer been so middling thus far? Simple, with the exception of Iron Man 2 (which opened with $128 million and just crossed $300 million today or tomorrow), the really big guns haven't been released yet. Besides, as occasionally is the case, studios were spoiled by the mega-movies that did uncommonly well over the winter and Spring. Aside from Avatar, which made about $400 million of its $749 million over 2010, we had the $332 million-grossing Alice in Wonderland, as well as the solid smash hits in How to Train Your Dragon and Clash of the Titans. As far as the summer season goes, just like the summers of my youth (1988-1995), the real peak season starts in mid-June, or this Friday to be exact. In other words, come this Friday, to quote the last true mid-June giant, "Now... the real game begins now."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Karate Kid stuns, A-Team opens just ok. Weekend box office review (06/13/10).

Ironically, in a weekend that banked on 1980s nostalgia, this weekend brought back the summers of my youth in a different way. Back when I was growing up, June was THE month of summer. Sure studios would release a big title over Memorial Day and/or the Fourth of July weekend, but the (alleged) big 800 pound gorillas debuted in mid-to-late June. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Batman, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Jurassic Park, The Lion King... the film that most expected to rule a given summer was usually released in the heart of June. Alas, since 1996 (when Twister, Mission: Impossible, and Independence Day crushed everything else released that summer), the studios have banked on early May, Memorial Day weekend, and the Fourth of July weekend (which would occasionally include the very last day of June), and the Warner Bros' mid-July slot as prime real estate. This June, at least over the next two weekends, mid-June is once again a release-period to be reckoned with.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

ET does puff piece on Thor, makes tentpole movie look stupid and cheap.

Leaving aside the obnoxious questions, all of which centered on how big, tall, and ripped star Chris Hemsworth has made himself in order to play a warrior God, I have to wonder what the hell Paramount was thinking. Yes, I've said before that Paramount should use its uncommonly hot cast as a selling point, but I wasn't referring to childish tittering. Everyone interviewed (Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, director Kenneth Branagh) came off like childish idiots, and the footage shown basically made the film look like a CW Roswell spin-off. Yes, you got a few brief glimpses of Hemsworth in his official Thor costume, as well as a momentary glance of Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Idris Elba as Heimdall. But the big chunk of footage basically had Chris Hemsworth running around in blue T-shirt and jeans and half-heartedly beating up black-suited men (Shield agents?). Your first live-action look at a bazillion-dollar Marvel comic book epic, and it's plainclothes Hemsworth, Portman, Kat Dennings (wearing a snow hat, as required by law for all movies featuring Kat Dennings), and I believe Stellan Skarsgard running down a random small-town street as if they were shooting a mid-season Smallville episode. When the best thing you can say about the film so far is that Natalie Portman looks awfully pretty as Jane Foster, that means it's not quite time to show off footage. First impressions people, they sting.

Scott Mendelson

Has our world gone mad? Sarah McLachlan gets happy in new video.

It's not a terrible song, and the video isn't anything special, but the concept is troubling. The song, titled "Loving You Is Easy" is the first single for her new album Laws of Illusion, which debuts on June 15th. The song basically has McLachlan waxing not-so-poetically about how happy she is with the new man in her life. And that is the problem. If I wanted to listen to puppies-and-rainbows melodies about the joys of new love and the sweetness of romance, I'd listen to a Taylor Swift song. I'm sorry, call me old fashioned, but when I listen to Sarah McLachlan music, I expect to be soulfully depressed and artfully bummed out, with soaring odes to misery and suffering plus a dash of gorgeously-sung hopelessness. This is a woman who is the go-to artist when they need a song for a commercial begging you to save downtrodden animals. This is a woman who, bless her lovely voice and compelling lyrics, put out a genuinely depressing Christmas CD a few years back. We'll see how the rest of the album turns out, but I damn well better hear some bitter ballads, sorrowful sonnets, and decidedly un-merry melodies. You're not Weird Al Yankovich, you're Sarah Fu&*#n McLachlan!

Scott Mendelson

PS - While my Taylor Swift reference was intended in jest, I did listen to McLachlan back in the day, and I'm not ashamed to admit it (when you're already a married family man, you can admit all kinds of such vices). But, when I was still a swinging bachelor, the rule was simple: Getting a girl to play her Sarah McLachlan CDs in order to set the mood = Good Idea. Whipping out your own copy of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy or Surfacing to set the mood = Bad Idea.

Walt Disney's Tangled (formally Rapunzel) gets an obnoxiously pandering boy-friendly and tween-targeted teaser.

I wrote at length back in March about how Disney executives were attempting to make their adaptation of Rapunzel more boy-friendly by adding a macho swashbuckling hero to the mix. I had no idea how far-gone they were, but now we can see that they really do believe that the reason The Princess and the Frog slightly underperformed was because it centered around a protagonist who had a vagina. This is a pathetically cynical bit of pandering of the highest order, attempting to turn a classically female-driven fairy tale into an adventure story for boys that happens to contain a 'feisty' love interest. Don't worry, I'm sure Rapunzel will be 'strong willed, independent, and not just a damsel in distress', and she may even punch out a bad guy or two. Is that the movie? I have no idea, but that's absolutely what's being sold, to the detriment of the final product (the 'she's been grounded... like, forever' tagline doesn't help either). And while I could sit here and babble on about the gender-relations implications of such a move, I'll simply that this teaser makes the movie look like a terrible, annoyingly 'hip' cartoon, in the vein of Happily N'Ever After. On the plus side, even if it is as bad as it looks, at least it will stink in three dimensions.

Scott Mendelson

Knight and Day moves two days early. Why Tom Cruise is, for the moment, still a movie star and a box office draw.

Long story short - Knight and Day, Fox's action-comedy directed by James Mangold and starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, is set to open two days earlier than intended. Instead of directly facing off against Grown Ups (which stars Adam Sandler and every major star who has ever been in an Adam Sandler picture), the somewhat well-buzzed project will now open on Wednesday, June 23rd. Long reason short - Adam Sandler comedies generally open to about $35-40 million, and the track records of Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise means that the action picture probably won't win the weekend. Besides, the move gives it two more days before the 1,600 pound gorilla known as Twilight Saga: Eclipse takes its best shot at The Dark Knight's $203 million five-day record (the five-day opening weekend record-holder is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, with $200 million). As far as how well Knight and Day will open, you can bet that the tabloids are itching to tear Cruise apart when the film doesn't open to blockbuster levels. But guess what? It probably won't.

Introducing 'Rumors from the crazy guy on the corner': Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the Riddler in Chris Nolan's Batman 3 (AKA - Shadow of the Bat)?

I've wrestled for sometime with how to discuss news in a timely manner when so much of the relevant movie news begins as rumor. I don't like to discuss rumors as if they are factual, but I also like to discuss stuff when it allegedly breaks. So, this will be the start of a new feature: 'News from the crazy guy on the corner'. To put it simply, anything I discuss here should be considered 100% rumor, and any analysis I offer should be taken as a theoretical 'if it turns out to be true' capacity. So if I find myself discussing something like that relatively debunked 'Indiana Jones goes to the Bermuda Triangle' story from a couple of days ago (I liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so I say go for it), or whether or not Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in talks to play the Riddler in Nolan's third Batman picture (makes sense, Nolan likes to poach actors from project to project), please know that I am not assuming that any of this will turn out to be correct.

'Wax On, F*ck Off' - a funny and brilliant social satire.

Not only is this thing laugh-out-loud funny, but it's a shockingly intelligent and dead-on look at the inexplicable double-standard regarding rising male stars versus rising female stars, which itself goes back to the classic 'men should seed their wild oats, but women should be virginal and pure' cliche. And wow, Mr. Macchio has aged better than anyone else of his generation. At 48, he looks even younger and healthier than the eternally-young Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, and Tom Cruise.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice gets one last (?) trailer.

I personally preferred the prior trailer, with its emphasis on the quippy relationship between Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel. This one is more about setting up plot and showing off a bit more special effects and villainy (Alfred Molin, Gregory Woo, and Alice Krige). Still, the snarkiness is there and this one looks as much an acting treat as a special effects demo reel. I could do without the closing credit 'It's the coolest job ever', but the post-credits button is actually pretty amusing. And frankly, I rather dig the music that has been used in all of the trailers for this film, which seems to be a slightly-altered version of 'A Pain That I'm Used To' from Depeche Mode. It's a very different tempo from most trailer music and helps distinguish the campaign. This won't be high art, but it should be good PG-rated fun that is aimed as much at adults as kids. Opening Wednesday July 14th, it should be just the thing to unwind with two days before Inception theoretically blows all of our collective minds. As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

"Always Be Closing". Glee again makes up for flawed middle with grand finale.

In a day when Lost can't wrap up their six-year run without negating everything that came before it, and even 24 can't end with a bang thanks to an upcoming movie version (the series finale was remarkably similar to the finale of season four), it's nice to see a final episode, even just a season finale, go out with a little style. Yes, the Glee mid-season finale was sharper and better paced, especially as two of the dramatic highlights (the kids doing a song for their teacher and Will making one last play for Emma) were reruns of last year's mid-season climax. Yes most of the break-out characters were put on the sidelines to focus to the original leads: Will, Sue, Finn, and Rachel. Yes, it's absolutely absurd that a character who has confessed to attempting to fix a dance competition just months ago would be allowed to judge a higher level of said competition. And the insertion of Rachel's long-lost mother proved to be a big fat deus ex machina to allow a known character to adapt Quinn and Puck's newborn.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ed Helms does Elton John on the MTV Movie Awards.

This isn't all that funny, and it's especially less funny once it gets interrupted at 1:20. I've generally found Tom Cruise to be good-sport funny for decades, so the sight of him trying so hard here and in Tropic Thunder is painful. But the first minute or so does confirm my (not-that-bold) assumption last year that Ed Helms was in fact doing an Elton John riff during everyone's favorite 'ode of the tiger'. His brief little ditty was one of the highlights of the movie, and my first thoughts were "Wow, Ed Helms can sing." and then "Wow, Ed Helms does a great Elton John impression". As for the show itself, I no longer watch regularly, but how I miss the days when they'd actually mock the film industry in a loving Mad Magazine sort of way. I still think the two best shows were 1994 awards, where they reenacted the Best Movie nominees with chimps, and the 1998 awards show, where Samuel L. Jackson hosted and brought along his character actor buddies (William H. Macy, Gary Busey) to teach the young folk a thing or two about overacting.

Scott Mendelson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I gets a second teaser.

I guess this MTV Movie Awards spot means that we'll be getting a fuller theatrical trailer in the very near future. The only question is whether Warner Bros. will wait until Inception is released on July 16th or attach the trailer to another studio's genre picture (Toy Story 3, The Last Airbender, or Twilight Saga: Eclipse) over the next few weeks. While I've read the book and it really delivers in the end, the teaser is weak sauce, especially from a franchise that usually goes for broke with their trailers. This one seems to be aimed at (ironically) the Twilight crowd. There is lots of running in the woods, a token amount of angst, but very little razzle/dazzle or spectacle. Frankly, I preferred the creepier, John Hurt-narrated teaser that was on the Half Blood Prince DVD/Blu Ray last year. Of course, much of the book was a somewhat repetitious chase through dark woods and in and out of various safe houses, which again makes me wonder why the very-much padded final chapter was cut into two movies (yes, I know, two blockbusters instead of one). Oh well, the series has been consistently strong this far into the game, I can't imagine David Yates and company dropping the ball this close to the end zone. As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Don't blame the stars, blame the studios? Are Kutcher, Heigl, and/or Seyfried risking their careers by making vehicles with underperforming studios?

We all know that Heigl and Kutcher are going to get ripped in the media because Killers 'only' opened with $16 million. And there are those that believe that Letters to Juliet surely could have pulled in $60 million, and that the failure to do so was a sign of Amanda Seyfried's lacking starpower. Yet both of those films are perfect examples of the weaknesses inherent in the studios that released them. Letters to Juliet and Killers had no chance to opening to $20 million+, because (for whatever reason) the studios that released them don't generally open films at that level of business. If you take away the fluke of Fahrenheit 9/11 and the Tyler Perry pictures, Lionsgate has had three $20 million+ openings in their history (Haunting in Connecticut, The Forbidden Kingdom, and My Bloody Valentine 3D). Same thing with Summit. Take away the Twilight franchise, and they'd have one $20 million+ opener (Knowing) and nothing else above $14 million in the last three or four years.

Shrek 4 three-peats and four new openers (Get Him to the Greek, Killers, Marmaduke, Splice) fail to break out. Weekend box office review (06/05/10).

Owing to lackluster competition, the complete failure of a film aimed at the same demographic, and the high ticket prices associated with 3D and IMAX theaters, Shrek Forever After once again took the top spot over the weekend. While the film opened far below expectations, the fourth picture in the Shrek saga has held off oblivion at least for the moment. With a $25.4 million grossing-third weekend, the film dropped 41% for a current seventeen-day total of $183.3 million. That's well behind the respective end-of-weekend three totals of Shrek the Third ($255 million) and Shrek 2 ($314 million). But both Shrek the Third and Shrek 2 dropped 47% on their third weekends, so the fourth chapter is displaying slightly superior legs. Whether this is do to the consistency and higher prices of the 3D and IMAX screens, or whether audiences just like this Shrek film better than the last, the franchise still seems to have some life left in it after all. It may have opened with 58% of the third film's $121 million opening weekend grosses, but Shrek: The Final Chapter is proving to be more resilient than many, including myself, predicted.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: Splice (2010)

107 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

In a sea of pretenders, Splice is the real thing. It is a genuine thriller, rooted in a small cast of developed characters and thoroughly engaged in its moral quagmire. It is frighteningly plausible and deliciously humorous. It is less concerned with scaring you out of your seat than in slowly creeping you out. It is a true original, a buttoned-down variation of the classic 'science has gone too far' story, but rooted in realism and sympathetic characters. It works because it takes the time to make us give a damn, and we give a damn because it works.

The Expendables gets a second (blatantly misleading) official trailer.

So, Lionsgate has gone from spoiling the 'surprise' cameo appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to falsely implying that the two action icons are actually starring in the 1980s homage. This is every bit as dishonest as the trailers for Kangaroo Jack and Snow Dogs which wrongly implied that the animals would be talking and/or rapping for the entire respective movies. Sorry folks, as most of you know, Sylvester Stallone is indeed starring in this ensemble piece, which he wrote and directed, but the real co-stars are B-level action figures (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, etc). On the plus side, the film will indeed be rated R after all.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blu Ray Review: Undisputed III: Redemption (2010)

Undisputed III: Redemption
96 minutes
rated R
available from Warner Home Video on DVD, Blu Ray, iTunes, and OnDemand.

by Scott Mendelson

Eight brutal prisoners from around the world converge in a Georgian prison to engage in brutal fights to the (almost) death with the promise of freedom for the victor. Wealthy men and corrupt authority figures will wager on the outcome, but one man has decided to fight back. Sound original? Of course not, but I would argue (by default) that Undisputed III is The Godfather of the 'prisoners fight to the death' sub-genre. It's competently acted (its always good to see Robert Costanzo), looks gorgeous thanks to the Red One camera, simply plotted, and contains just enough impressively choreographed fight scenes.

Guest Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

Once again, I'm poaching (with permission) friend and colleague RL Shaffer's review of a movie that he has seen before myself. In this case, it's the remake of The Karate Kid. The film finally screened last night in Cleveland, Ohio. Sony obviously knows it has a winner on its hands, hence the long-lead screening. Anyway, the above video is RL Shaffer of DVD Future giving us his take on The Karate Kid.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Looks pretty cool to me...

Thanks to AICN for snagging these bits of concept art. This is apparently legit, so behold your first look, more or less, at Chris Evens as Steve Rogers/Captain America. It looks fine and dandy, but I'm more curious as to what Hugo Weaving will look like as the Red Skull. Will he look any different than Scott Paulin from the 1990 Albert Pyun disaster-piece? And, with the added publicity of Captain America 2.0, will said original finally get a DVD release? It may be kinda terrible, but it has its goofy charm (it's absurdly violent for the first half and Paulin actually makes a compelling Red Skull).

Scott Mendelson

Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
115 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Prince of Persia is a film so desperately chasing the shadows of its predecessors that it fails to be its own product. It feels like a Frankenstein-monster patchwork from the other period adventure franchises of the last decade, but it neglects the key ingredient: quality. Anyone can grill a steak, but having the right cut of meat is 80% of the battle. The film is a wildly expensive, genuinely epic adventure story with an overt political subtext and a couple rousing action scenes. But it is fatally miscast, badly written and it neglects to develop its characters beyond the call sheet. It's not a bad movie, but it fails to be anything approaching a good movie.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blu Ray review: The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli
118 minutes
rated R
Available June 15th from Warner Home Video on DVD, Blu Ray, iTunes, and OnDemand.

For the theatrical review of this picture, go here.

The Blu Ray - Like all recent Warner Bros titles, the film is housed in a double-disc set, with the Blu Ray containing the feature and supplemental features on one disc and a DVD copy containing the film and a digital copy of said film on the other. As for the Blu Ray, the disc accurately represents the muted, brown-centric color palette and is generally rich with detail. Like Sherlock Holmes (and I'd presume The Wolfman), this is a film that was likely shown in theaters with incorrect bulb-lighting levels all over the country, which probably rendered it relatively underlit and grubby looking in auditoriums. Thus, I can only presume that the Blu Ray probably looks better than the theatrical presentation in all-but the best theaters. This is not an audio powerhouse in any sense of the term, but the sound effects, music, and dialogue are properly separated and the dialogue is always crystal-clear.


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